It’s not always easy knowing who to trust.
As Scottish novelist George McDonald once wrote, “to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
And trusting the wrong person can be just as damaging as loving the wrong person.
Developing the skills to spot an untrustworthy person is the work of a lifetime. And even the best of us still get it wrong from time to time.
However, there are some telltale signs that can warn you the person you’re dealing with should not be trusted.
Whether it’s in business or in your personal life, keep an eye out for these signs of someone who is not being completely honest with you.
1) They act differently in private than they do in public
To some extent, everyone does this.
We all choose what parts of ourselves we will show to a different audience, so our grandparents see a different side of us than our close friends do.
However, dishonest people are often two-faced.
They may act a certain way toward you when the two of you are alone, and then change how they relate to you when you are in public together.
You may also notice that they do the same with other people. This can be subtle, but there are sometimes giveaways, such as them denying they said something that a friend insists that they did.
Sometimes it can even be trivial things, like pretending to like a certain food or a particular movie around you, then denying it around other people.
It may seem silly, but it’s a sign of somebody that is hiding parts of themselves. That makes them a person you don’t want to be around.
Another sign of this is that…
2) They gossip
Gossip is part of what makes us the social animals we are. In fact, there are some theories that gossip played an important role in the development of language in early human societies.
But gossip can also be hugely damaging. There’s a reason why an old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Talking about people behind their backs can damage their reputations and cause immense harm to their mental health when they realize people are talking about them.
If you have a friend who loves to gossip about other friends, it’s a warning sign that you may be dealing with an untrustworthy person.
That’s especially true if the person shares secrets and intimate details about their other friends.
Because if they treat their other friends like that, no matter what they might say, you ought to wonder what they say about you when you are not around.
And if you’re dealing with someone who loves to gossip, it’s probably a good idea not to give them any of your secrets that you don’t want them to tell other people.
There are lots of reasons people gossip, but one is that…
3) They lack empathy
Human relationships are built on empathy.
That’s the ability to mentally put yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their feelings and actions.
Without empathy, people are much more likely to treat others badly, whether through gossip, hostility, or even mental or physical abuse.
Someone who lacks empathy is absolutely not someone you want to be around. And certainly not someone worthy of your trust.
Signs a person lacks empathy include:
- being critical of other people and judgmental of their actions
- seeing other people as too sensitive
- believing that they would handle another person’s situation much better than the person who is in it
- not understanding how their behavior affects others
- struggling to maintain long-lasting relationships
- intolerance of other viewpoints
- unwillingness to apologize or admit fault
- never being happy for other people’s achievements
Lacking empathy can be a sign of a serious mental illness.
However, people who lack empathy are often untrustworthy, because they are incapable of understanding the consequences their actions have on other people.
That means they are often best avoided.
4) They try too hard to please
When you’re in a relationship with someone, whether it’s professional, friendly, romantic, or otherwise, you want them to like you.
That’s just human nature.
We all have different ways of trying to get people to like us, including showing off the more positive aspects of our personalities and hiding the less appealing ones.
However, be careful of people who seem too eager to make you like them.
Often, dishonest people will lie about who they are to get you to like them. They may pretend to have interests they don’t just to match with yours or lie about experiences they have had that make you feel connected to them.
And you don’t necessarily have to catch them in a lie.
If someone seems a little too perfectly matched with you or if they never disagree with you about anything, you’re within your rights to wonder if they can really be trusted.
After all, real relationships require honesty about who you really are.
And that includes being honest with yourself.
5) Their stories change
Once you’ve known someone for a while, you will have heard some of their stories before. But keep an eye out when they repeat those stories for another audience.
If you notice some of the details change when they tell the same story to somebody else, it’s a red flag.
Therapist Rachel Holzberg says, “If you notice that someone is offering you conflicting information or seemingly bending the truth of a story, those are signals that point to untrustworthiness.”
And your own experience will bear this out.
True stories don’t change. Lies do.
And if someone can’t keep a story straight, it’s a good sign they can’t be trusted.
6) They keep big secrets
We can’t know everything, even about people we are very close to. But the bigger the secret someone keeps from you, the bigger the sign that they can’t be trusted.
In my own experience, I once had a friend who was adopted. That’s not the kind of thing you tell everyone you meet, but it is the kind of thing you ought to tell a friend you’ve been close to for years if it comes up.
And it did.
Without getting into details, this person tried to hide their past even when it was obvious they were lying. It was hard to understand, because it’s not like being adopted is anything to be embarrassed about.
And by the time they finally came clean, the damage to the friendship was done.
7) They are not honest with themselves
As if that’s not enough, untrustworthy people often lie to themselves as much as they do to those around them.
What do I mean?
Well, people who aren’t worth your trust may have a distorted idea of themselves that they go to great lengths to preserve.
Maybe they pretend to be more spontaneous and adventurous than they actually are.
Maybe they pretend to be smarter and better educated.
Maybe they claim to love animals but seem extremely uncomfortable around them.
When someone displays a major disconnect between what they say about themselves and how they actually act, it’s a good sign they are not to be trusted.
Anyone who is able to convincingly lie to themselves is unlikely to have any problem lying to you.
And that’s not all…
8) They don’t honor commitments
We all have busy lives, and can’t always keep every commitment we make. But if a person has a pattern of making commitments they have no intention of keeping, it’s a sign they aren’t worthy of your trust.
As personal development author Frank Sonnenberg points out in this blog post, people who break commitments often lack personal responsibility. That’s the type of person you can rely on to not be there for you when you need them.
Therefore, a person who regularly fails to honor commitments to you or others has proven themselves untrustworthy.
9) They lie
By now, you’ve probably guessed that a person unworthy of your trust will often lie to you.
We all tell little white lies from time to time. Often, it’s to spare people’s feelings or avoid unpleasant conversations.
But if you repeatedly catch someone in frequent lies, it’s a huge red flag that they are not to be trusted.
And they don’t have to be lying to you, either. If someone maintains that they are always honest with you but frequently lies to other people, whether it’s their boss, their parents, or their partner, you should seriously reconsider giving this person any of your trust.
Avoiding untrustworthy people
Trust is an important part of any relationship. And once trust has been broken, it can be very difficult or even impossible to get it back.
To spare yourself emotional turmoil, it’s better to avoid forming relationships with people you can’t trust.
Keep an eye out for these warning signs to avoid trusting the wrong person.